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November 22, 1998

JUDGE SLAPS TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER ON “CDA II”

By CBR Staff Writer

Civil liberties groups have achieved the first of their goals in a legal challenge to the recently signed Child Online Protection Act (COPA), which they stigmatize as the unwelcome return of the notorious Communications Decency Act (CDA). Judge Lowell Reed has ruled that the plaintiffs have shown a likelihood of success on the merits of at least some of their claims that COPA violates adults’ First Amendment rights. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had brought forward two witnesses, Norman Laurila, owner of A Different Light bookstores, and David Talbot, editor of the internet magazine Salon. Both testified that their businesses stood to incur irreparable harm if a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) were not issued. Though he seems to have taken some convincing, Judge Reed’s granting of the TRO extends a measure of protection to all commercial web publishers, at least for a while. The judge emphasized that the TRO applies to all internet users, not only the seventeen plaintiffs led by the ACLU. What’s more, even if COPA is upheld in the end, those who contravene it in the meantime cannot be prosecuted retroactively. The case returns to court on December 8 for a preliminary injunction hearing. The TRO expires on December 4, but is likely to be extended for at least another ten days. Executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Marc Rotenberg, said the plaintiffs were pleased with the ruling. The civil liberties groups insist that COPA has all the constitutional flaws of the CDA, and that it is fated to be overturned by the Supreme Court on the same grounds. Not so say Representatives Tom Bliley, Michael Oxley and James Greenwood, the framers of the legislation, who released a joint statement in response to the judge’s finding. Today’s court decision is not surprising, they admitted. As far as they are concerned, however, this is only the beginning of another protracted legal struggle over censorship on the internet.

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